This is my Friday column.
Colin Kaepernick has to go. He’s done with the 49ers.
He isn’t necessarily done in the NFL — he eventually could turn his career around somewhere else. But not in Santa Clara. The Niners have to cut Kaepernick at the end of the season.
Forget trading him. No team would give up anything for Kaepernick under his current contract, which includes a salary-cap hit of more than $16.7 million in 2016. He’s not worth that much.
He’s a backup quarterback. He should sign a two-year deal in the offseason to back up an established veteran, someone like Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, or Philip Rivers in San Diego.
Or Alex Smith in Kansas City. Smith seemed to have a good effect on Kaepernick when they were teammates in 2011 and 2012.
It doesn’t really matter where Kaepernick ends up, as long he doesn’t end up starting. As a backup, he wouldn’t have to talk to the media, or act in commercials, or obsess about being a celebrity, or endure criticism from football experts and fans on the internet, or worry about living up to a gigantic contact.
As a backup, Kaepernick could be an anonymous football player and focus on his craft — a craft he isn’t good at.
All the other stuff adds pressure, and Kaepernick crumbles under pressure.
Kaepernick is a small-market guy. Grew up in Turlock — population: 70,365. Played college football in freaking Reno — not exactly the big stage. More like one of those half auditorium-half cafeterias. A cafetorium.
The Niners drafted Kaepernick in the second round, and he sat on the bench for a season and a half. Virtually no one expected him to be a franchise quarterback and, when he finally made his first start, virtually no one expected him to keep the starting job.
Alex Smith was the starter, his passer rating was 104.1, and the Niners were 6-2-1. Smith was simply sitting out a game because of a concussion. He’d be back.
Expectations for Kaepernick’s first start couldn’t have been lower. Which means he was in his element — no pressure. And he was fantastic. He posted a passer rating of 133.1 against the Chicago Bears. He has never played better.
That season, Kaepernick led the Niners all the way to the Super Bowl, where he played well. Until the end, at the 5-yard line, where he crumbled under pressure, frantically throwing wild passes Michael Crabtree’s direction
Next season, same thing. Kaepernick played well when stakes were low. Played well the first two rounds of the playoffs. Even played well in the NFC championship game against the Seattle Seahawks. Until the end, when he crumbled under pressure, frantically throwing Crabtree’s direction.
Kaepernick’s brain seemed to shut down in both cases.
A few months after his second meltdown, the Niners signed Kaepernick to a six-year, $114 million contract. But the deal wasn’t guaranteed. The Niners could cut him after any season, and could dock him $2 million a year until he made the Pro Bowl or returned to the Super Bowl.
The Niners raised the stakes. All of a sudden, Kaepernick was playing for his money AND his career. Every game. That’s when his downward spiral started.
Before Kaepernick signed the mondo contract extension, his passer rating was 93.8. After signing the mondo contract extension, his passer rating has been 82.7.
The pressure is paralyzing him. The guy can’t even throw straight anymore, he’s so petrified of getting intercepted.
Wednesday, a reporter asked head coach Jim Tomsula if he thinks Kaepernick is second-guessing himself.
“That’s something we hit head-on,” Tomsula said. “Look, if you are, are you? No, if you are, stop. Can’t have it. Can’t play that way. And to me, again, it goes back to the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
Which, of course, is true. The weight of the world IS on Kaepernick’s shoulders — that’s his problem. Tomsula is exactly right.
After Tomsula finished speaking, Kaepernick came to the podium and a reporter asked him how he keeps from worrying about his job security.
“I don’t play for job security,” Kaepernick announced. “Whether football is here or not, I will be fine. I go out, I play to win. I’m not worried about job security when I step in this building.”
Which, of course, is not true. But you understand what he’s doing. He’s trying to ignore the pressure, pretend it doesn’t exist.
That’s not going to work. The pressure is real in Santa Clara. Kaepernick has to go.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.